Guitar wanking, posturing, and showing off was a trend that has kind of come and gone. I remember a few years ago, instrumental rock or metal bands were all the rage. The music was nothing more than an excuse for some dudes to show off how much time they spent sitting in their bedrooms practicing their instruments. Eventually everybody, even the progenitors, had given up on that art form built off of ego. Most of them ended up playing slow and starting doom bands. Cue Southern Lord...
But, there were some mad instrumentalists who never let their skill get in the way of solid song-writing, a focus on what makes music enjoyable to listen to, and creating emotional connections. In the case of instrumental bands, it's almost that much harder, since there is no human voice to connect with. Even though it pre-dates the fad I talked about, No Knife is one such band that uses amazing song-writing to mix their instrumental skill with. Despite the vocals, No Knife's music always struck me as so calculated and carefully constructed in a way that few other bands could manage. They used instrumental flourishes few bands could pull off as a means to create that unique sound.
Japan definitely took No Knife's approach to songwriting to heart. There might have been other bands that strongly influenced it, but around 2002, after No Knife toured Japan, bands started popping up that embodied that fresh, emo-rock sound (like Toe, Nine Days Wonder, Up and Coming, Wound Third Picture). It seemed to channel the Japanese obsession of perfection into an art form and give it direction. And you saw the gorgeous technicality that Americans had trouble copying from No Knife come into fruition in a country across the sea. In my mind, this sound became Japanese, since most American bands never followed it (The Kinsella brothers, Pele, and others notwithstanding).
Low-pass is the latest, and not the latest, of this grand tradition. They take elements of the best Japanese instrumental bands (Toe, Lite) and channel it through a more straight forward rock lens. The aforementioned bands lean heavily on their instruments, not reaching for a voice but trying to let the instruments do the talking. Low-pass instead leans on the strength of their song-writing, not depending on a single instrument to take the lead. In some ways, other Japanese bands feel more like jazz and Low-pass feels more like rock. You can see yourself rocking out to the songs, driving down the free-way, like a proper rock band.
And that's not saying that the instrumental prowess isn't there. Low-pass adds enough "better than you" riffs, drum rolls, and bass lines to make you feel properly insignificant. But like I said, all of this is done in worship of the song, used smartly to create a cohesive, emotional experience. Each instrument drops back, plays rhythmically when the song requires, and then freaks out when it needs to. It's some of the best mix of playing and song-writing I've heard.
Low-pass is released by Stiff Slack in Japan, but we're lucky enough that Keep It Together Records is paying attention and releasing it here. The cassette version, with some gorgeous artwork, should be out in the next few months, but the entire album is available to preview at the link below. As summer is almost upon us (or maybe I should say spring), this is the perfect album to pop in your car or MP3 player and greet the sun.
8. Days Over